How Italy is digitising its masterworks

The Impossible Exhibition takes hard-to-view work, scans it and reproduces it in startling detail
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Our book the Art Museum, is the finest art collection ever assembled between two covers. It features nearly 2,700 works across 992 oversized pages. We think our high-resolution images bring you as the works as close to you as possible. Now, it seems, a real-life exhibition initiative is thinking along the same lines.

The Impossible Exhibition, which runs until 21 April 2014 at the San Domenico Maggiore convent in Naples, is showing 117 pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Caravaggio, including Raphael's School of Athens (1509-10) and Leonardo's the Last Supper (1494-1498).

The more perceptive among you will have noted that these two works are wall frescoes and so cannot travel. Instead, the Impossible Exhibition has reproduced them in 1:1 scale, high-resolution digital prints.


The School of Athens (1509-10) by Raphael, on show at Palazzo Realein Naples
The School of Athens (1509-10) by Raphael, on show at Palazzo Realein Naples

The project, which has been undertaken jointly by the state broadcaster Rai and the City of Naples Department of Culture and Tourism, scans and photographs large-scale works by these Italian masters. These detailed digital files, which take up to one gigabyte of data, are then printed onto an opaque screen, adjusted and certified by a panel of art historians, then installed and backlit.

The Italian journalist Renato Parascandolo has been working on the project for some years, and has shown a selection of the digitised paintings previously. Paradsandolo believes his technique overcomes some obvious problems in bringing crowds of art lovers into close proximity with delicate, immobile, and valuable works. Indeed, he argues that his technique often lets viewers see paintings in greater detail, given awkward positioning and the fragility of some works, and his exhibition "may be a more compelling and touching [display of] the original work."


The Last Supper (1494–1498) by Leonardo da Vinci, on show at the Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence
The Last Supper (1494–1498) by Leonardo da Vinci, on show at the Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence

With tickets retailing at only €5, it's certainly one of the most affordable shows, and indeed one of the most mobile. And with 14,000 works in its collection, the Impossible Exhibition project can host shows to order, anywhere, across the world.

Find out more about this exhibition here. And if you would like to develop a longer-standing relationship with some of these works, pick up a copy of our Art Museum, which features many of these works, including the School of Athens. Buy it from the people who made it, here.


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